Mary Don’t You Weep

Mary Don’t You Weep

(Featured Image: Cover art for the forthcoming Piano & A Microphone 1983. Photo by Allen Beaulieu, © the Prince Estate.)

Since the official release of “Moonbeam Levels” in November 2016, the Prince fan community has been clamoring for more unreleased music. The results to date, however, have been more of a trickle than the flood many would prefer. Last June’s deluxe Purple Rain reissue got mixed reviews from the hardcore for its track selection and 2016-ized mix (just for the record, I liked it). Since then, there have been rumors of a remastered edition of Prince and the Revolution’s August 1983 First Avenue debut, an expanded version of 1999, and an official release of Prince’s final “Piano & A Microphone” shows at Paisley Park–none of which have come to fruition. It was only with the single release of “Nothing Compares 2 U” this April that the drought showed any real signs of ending. Shortly thereafter, representatives of the Prince Estate (whatever that means at this point) announced two full-length projects featuring unreleased material: one from the Warner Bros. years and coming this September, the other of more recent vintage and premiering, at least initially, on TIDAL in 2019.

While the latter project remains a mystery, today–the 60th anniversary of Prince’s birth–Warner and the estate finally revealed what to expect from the former: a long-circulating collection of 1983 piano rehearsals, cleverly retitled Piano & A Microphone 1983. For better or worse, it’s on brand with the posthumous releases we’ve seen to date: tasteful, collector-approved, and dating from the 198285 zenith of Prince’s primacy in the pop market. It’s so on brand, in fact, that for the first time in the last 18 months of Prince releases, I actually caught myself feeling a slight tinge of disappointment. The Vault has been open for almost two years; isn’t it about time we got something that hasn’t already leaked?

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Nothing Compares 2 U

Nothing Compares 2 U

(Featured Image: Cover art for “Nothing Compares 2 U,” 2018; photo by Nancy Bundt, © NPG Records/Warner Bros.)

Last week, I made my long-awaited, surreal, exhausting pilgrimage to the Twin Cities to attend the Prince from Minneapolis conference and Paisley Park’s Celebration 2018. I have complicated feelings, which I’m still processing–and will continue to do so, with the help of some other people who were there, on the podcast in the coming weeks. For now, though, I have some basic reactions to Celebration, and to the newly-released Prince song that was debuted on the event’s first day.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Celebration coming in–reports of last year’s event suggested a combination music festival, fan convention, and cult indoctrination–but in my experience, it was basically a corporate retreat for hardcore Prince fans. There were hours of panel discussions with ex-band members Gayle Chapman, Dez Dickerson, Matt Fink, and Bobby Z; photographers Allen Beaulieu, Nancy Bundt, Terry Gydesen, and Nandy McLean; and dancers Tomasina Tate and, um, Wally Safford. There were screenings of Prince concerts from the Piano & A Microphone, HitnRun 2015, and–via the associated “Prince: Live on the Big Screen” event at the Target Center–Welcome 2 America tours. There were live performances by Sheila E, fDeluxe (née the Family), and a (fantastic) new supergroup of New Power Generation alumni dubbed the Funk Soldiers. And, of course, there was the debut of the music video for Prince’s previously-unreleased studio version of his pop standard “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

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Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden

Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden

(Featured Image: Prince at his 26th birthday concert, First Avenue, June 7, 1984. Photo stolen from Prince Off the Record; check it out for a very nice review of the show!)

Well, folks, the podcast episode I promised yesterday isn’t going to happen until early next week; I simply didn’t have enough time to finish editing. Luckily, though, Warner Bros. has my back, because last night they surprise-released another advance track from the new Purple Rain reissue: the studio-recorded medley of “Our Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden.” So, rather than completely skip a post today, let’s take a short look at these songs and how they fit into the grander scheme of Prince’s work.

Like the previously-discussed “Electric Intercourse,” “Our Destiny”/”Roadhouse Garden” has advance notoriety among hardcore fans and collectors–though, in this case, its connection to the Purple Rain project is much less clear. Prince and the Revolution performed the song only once, at his 26th birthday celebration at Minneapolis’ First Avenue on June 7, 1984: the same concert that yielded the basic track for Jill Jones’ “All Day, All Night.” And as all of us Prince obsessives know, that might as well have been a decade after the previous year’s August 3 First Avenue date, which similarly provided the majority of Purple Rain’s second side. By summer of 1984, Prince was already hard at work on his next project(s), including tracks that would end up on 1985’s Around the World in a Day.

Adding to the confusion, Roadhouse Garden would later become the title of an aborted late-’90s compilation of refurbished Revolution tracks by the artist then-formerly known as Prince–most of which seemed to date from what Princeologists would consider to be the “Dream Factory era” of 1985-1986. This, in turn, appears to have transformed in many fans’ reckonings into a whole other album between Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day, possibly also called Roadhouse Garden. Basically, the song’s provenance is a mess, and I’ve seen more than a few people cry foul over its and its sister song’s inclusion in what “should” be a compilation of outtakes specifically related to Purple Rain.

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Electric Intercourse

Electric Intercourse

(Featured Image: Prince by Michael Ochs, 1985.)

It’s been a long five months since the release of 4Ever, the first posthumous compilation of Prince’s work, and “Moonbeam Levels,” the first “new” track to be officially released since his death last April. Many of us, I think, were expecting Paisley Park’s “Celebration,” a four-day event marking the first anniversary of his passing, to be the end of this drought. Certainly, with the long-promised Purple Rain reissue looming in the near future, the time felt ripe for some more concrete information, if not an actual release.

And, as it turned out, we did get new music that week–but not from Paisley Park, and not from the Purple Rain era. Instead, a former engineer named Ian Boxill surprise-released an EP of six previously unheard 2006 recordings–including the gorgeous, gospel-flavored “Deliverance”–implying that he had the blessing of Prince’s estate to do so. This turned out not to be true: within hours of the announcement, the estate had filed suit, and a United States District Court Judge had granted a temporary restraining order to halt the sale of the EP. Meanwhile, the Celebration came and went with no official mention of the Purple Rain set. Even after a fan group leaked what turned out to be an accurate track list, both Warner Bros. and NPG Records remained mum–until the following Friday, that is, when the announcement we’d been expecting finally came through, along with the second “official” posthumous track, “Electric Intercourse.”

I recount all of this, in part, to note that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Prince may no longer be with us physically, but his spirit clearly lives on in the capricious, contested, and scattershot handling of his music. In a weird way, this is also the most relevant Prince has been to the contemporary recording industry in decades: a drama-filled album launch, botched in part by the vagaries of online music services, puts him in the rarefied (if, in this case, dubious) company of 21st century pop titans like Rihanna and Kanye West.

But all facetiousness aside, I also want to explain why I’m writing about “Electric Intercourse” right now, and not about “Deliverance.” It isn’t necessarily that I disapprove of the EP’s release: I’m glad Boxill leaked it, just as I’m glad that more anonymous sources have leaked the hundreds of other non-sanctioned songs I continue to enjoy. But I broke my chronology with “Moonbeam Levels” last fall because it was an official and easily accessible release; and, while “Deliverance” as of this writing is still available for purchase on the iTunes store, the legal grappling around its parent EP doesn’t give me much confidence for the future. Besides that, I remain skeptical of Boxill’s claims that the majority of the proceeds for the song/EP will go to Prince’s estate: I’m no lawyer, but I can’t think of many cases where an individual successfully paid royalties to a group in the process of pursuing legal action against him. So, basically, I’m treating “Deliverance” like a bootleg: I’ll write about it, of course, but not until I reach the proper point in the chronology–so, at my current pace, our grandchildren should be able to enjoy it, provided we all survive the impending Third World War.

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